Micro.blog open to allComments

Massive congratulations to Manton Reece as he has announced today that, to close out 2017, micro.blog is now open to the public:

”Micro.blog is now available to anyone. There’s a limit of 100 new sign-ups each day, so that we can better respond to feedback as the community grows.”

This year has been one of significant change for me, as I’ve said before, thanks in no small part to the influence of micro.blog and how it has made me think about how I should treat my own site.

So, what is micro.blog and why should you use it?

Rather than just another social network m.b is a network of “micro blogs” that lets you follow and reply to other people in a Twitter-like timeline but the posts don’t solely exist within that timeline, they live on the blogs and are brought in via RSS.

I personally tend to think of micro.blog as like an RSS reader with a social layer allowing you to comment on other people’s posts via the timeline. It’s very much a hybrid environment and what it does depends on how you use it.

In addition to having blogs hosted on the service itself you can hook it up to your own site - as I do with this WordPress blog. This lets you post either via your own site or the m.b apps or website and, if your blog supports IndieWeb Webmentions, receive any replies as native comments. In that regard, I use micro.blog as a comment system like Disqus.

It’s this distinction that justifies why I still engage in a quasi-social environment when I have sworn off of the likes of Twitter.

The benefit of using micro.blog is that you own your posts and can, should you want to, automatically cross-post them to Twitter or Facebook as the service supports this. The IndieWeb is not out to replace existing social avenues but to interact with them while allowing people to retain greater ownership and control.

If you have your own blog but don’t want a separate microblog you don’t need to do anything differently, just hook up your RSS feed and simply use it as an extra layer of engagement.

We put so much on social networks and the majority is quickly lost and forgotten - it’s such a waste of effort. I firmly believe that people should get back to writing for themselves in their own spaces and micro.blog is a great facilitator for this.

So, well done Manton and thanks for a great year!

Micro.blog open to all

Rethinking the feedsComments

Colin Devroe made a good point.

He is subscribed to my main feed and wondered why he didn't see my Watch follow-up post about the woman on the train.

The answer was that it was a microblog post and, therefore, in the /feed/microblog feed instead.

Emailing back and forth about it made realise that this is a bit pointless.

I was originally going to keep the microblog separate from the longer posts and, because micro.blog doesn't want post titles for micro posts, set up a custom feed with no item title element.

It was my intention to not include the shorter posts in the main feed as it had always been for more essay-type posts but, ever since I decided not to separate micro posts on the site, I have been using standard and status posts interchangeably - the only difference is whether they have a title or not.

So, for common sense to prevail (and for related posts not to be ignored based on length) I am going to remove the exclusion for micro posts from the main feed.

The microblog feed will still exist, as will the separate podcast feed, but everything will now be in the main feed.

It has been quite a moot point anyway. A status post of 281 characters without a title would have already been included in the feed being not be added to the microblog category.

Arguing the toss over character count is stupid.

Rethinking the feeds

Whither microblogging?

I never actually considered Twitter to be a microblogging platform, at least not for my own purposes.

At its most basic level your Twitter profile fits that brief (a reverse chronological list of short posts from a single author) but the lack of true ownership and the overarching social aspect meant I could never really see it as such.

It just never felt like a blog, even a micro one.

A new way

Micro.blog seeks to usher in a new era for microblogging but if there wasn't the self-hosted option I feel it would suffer in the same way. If everything was just hosted on the platform then you would essentially have just another Twitter clone.

But it's not, the idea behind it is wider reaching. However, that still doesn't mean there aren't issues.

I think Micro.blog's one problem is that it has multiple use cases and, because of this, some don't really understand exactly what it is.

The description on its About page includes:

"Micro.blog shows recent posts from sites and people you are following"

Fair enough, it's an aggregator, but we also have:

"Micro.blog is a new social network for independent microblogs"

Two use cases within the first couple of lines but they are not incompatible - remember FriendFeed? Later, the description expands and clarifies this position:

"Instead of trying to be a full social network, Micro.blog is a thin layer that glues the open web together, making it more useful. Micro.blog adds discovery and conversations on top of previously unconnected blog posts."

Now we're getting somewhere; this is where it starts to get interesting and is what really appeals to me on a visceral level.

But people have a hard time understanding "layers" - we only need to go back to Google+ to see this. It was never meant to be just a social network, it was supposed to be the glue that bound all of your Google activity together.

Just like Google+ some can only see Micro.blog as a social network, they don't understand why it is needed, why they should participate or the relationship with content on your own site. As I mentioned yesterday, many just don't see the need.

Add hosted microblogging to the mix and some are confused about Micro.blog's purpose. Surely, if microblogs are hosted then they are not independent as mentioned above.

Connected

Whether you get the purpose of Micro.blog or not, blogs themselves are more valuable, more powerful when they are connected, when there is an exchange of ideas. I go on about having conversations via blog posts as I feel this is an important part of the web - how it used to be and how it should be again.

But Micro.blog can't do this alone which is why it sits squarely atop the principles of the #indieweb and why so much emphasis is placed on webmentions.

The hope is that as Micro.blog grows, the proliferation of webmentions will drive the adoption of ways to consume them across different blogging platforms, in turn driving wider adoption of the indieweb as a whole.

As I have also written, I hope that microblogging may spawn a resurgence in longer form writing - especially on people's own sites. If a mechanism exists to reduce the isolation of blogging then more may be tempted to share their thoughts in more depth.

The indieweb provides such a mechanism but the technology and terminology are beyond many. Micro.blog has the advantage of using a familiar trope (the social network) to introduce this mechanism and its concepts in a more accessible way.

It just needs to better explain what it is and how its different use cases relate.

It just needs to better explain why.

Whither microblogging?

The duality of microbloggingComments

Further to the points I made in "Self-hosted microblogging - where does it fit?" I've been having more thoughts on how best to use Micro.blog and fit it into my own online ecosystem.

As I carry my microposts on my own blog I opted not to use the two free months hosting reward from the Kickstarter campaign - although that is still an option I could exercise later - it was the different approach of being self-hosted that really interested me more than just the social networking side.

There is a duality to the service between hosted accounts and self-hosted that impacts what I do psychologically and introduces a second, virtual duality.

There are two approaches to data publishing and use as discussed on the #indieweb site:

  • POSSE, Post (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere
  • PESOS, Post Elsewhere, Syndicate (on your) own site

The self-hosted side of Micro.blog takes items from your own site and publishes them to the network (POSSE) but using the iOS app makes it feel like a PESOS environment where you post to the network and it then feeds back to your own site.

There is an element of cognitive dissonance and takes a bit of getting used to.

The actual process is that the iOS app posts to your site using XMLRPC or micropub (depending on the type of site) which then pings the Micro.blog servers letting them know a new post is available. Micro.blog then pulls in that new post via your sites RSS feed.

Except for replies - which are held solely on the server (at least for now) which I feel is right, having written:

"Webmentions may provide reply notification to your blog but the conversation itself is purely, and should be, a social construct thanks to the context of its creation."

Holding back

Another duality exists in the nature of microblog posts which comes back to where you post influencing what you post.

Using the app with full view of the timeline is more likely to encourage social or conversational entries as opposed to posting off-network. It's an interesting challenge to maintain consistency even though everything is effectively coming from your own property.

For someone who backed the service and is, therefore, a de facto beta tester I'm not posting anywhere near as much as I could or should be.

I find myself resisting the urge to post so as not to have platitudes or socially oriented posts fed back to the blog. Context, in this regard, has a lot to answer for!

It's very much in my head and I need to either get over it or come up with a way around it.

I could just accept that I won't be posting directly to the service very much or separate the microblog from the long form posts. I like the juxtaposition of different post types, however, so think removing them from the main flow would be a loss.

It's going to take some time to settle on a compromise.

The duality of microblogging

Blogging: the long and short of it

Blogging now takes multiple forms but recently feels like it has been co-opted by journalists, despite being subject to editorial constraints, and businesses for "content marketing" - such a horrible term!

Organisations are told their site must have a blog(s) for SEO and engagement even if they serve no real purpose or they haven't actually got anything to say.

Part of the appeal of self-hosted microblogging is that it feels like blogging is being reclaimed for its original intent to share the voice of an individual.

As I wrote before:

It goes beyond the social networked element as it enables me to publish small thoughts that don’t require deep dives and long processes...

Blogging doesn't always have to be in-depth, long form essays; it is an expression of self and this can just as effectively be a paragraph, a sentence or even a single word.

While the Micro.blog platform may be a social network there is no reason why short form posts should be strictly limited to this type of environment.

Effort

The reason many blogs are abandoned is they are a lot of work; they require dedication to turn up and churn out regular posts but why should this be?

The long form post, with its depth and insight, is what's expected of us to impart knowledge and differentiate blogs from our shorter updates on social networks.

Why can't they both be in the same place?

Not everything needs 500 words, intricate explanations, infographics or even a title. Microblog posts can be just as valid and just as personal.

This is the goal of a blog after all.

All posts

With this in mind I have decided to show all posts on the main site, long or micro. The respective RSS feeds will remain separate for logistical purposes but I don't see why all posts should not be viewed together.

They are all part of my expression of self.

Blogging: the long and short of it

Posting with Workflow

While waiting for the Micro.blog app to launch I thought I'd take a different approach with posting now that the site itself is largely sorted.

My main posting routine from Ulysses is largely set in stone, incorporating a mixture of Phoenix and Enlight for editing images but this is a bit overkill for microblogging. I also wanted to automate the selections specific to microblog posts.

I have considered purchasing the Workflow app for a while but never had a genuine use for it.

Until now!

Drafts is better suited to writing short, text only posts (including markdown syntax) so this was the starting point.

A workflow would need to automatically set the following:

  • post type to "Status"
  • category to "Microblog"
  • post status to "Published"

Because I use the Medium plugin I need to ensure that microblog posts will not get cross-posted. When publishing via an external source (e.g. Ulysses) the Medium plugin does not appear to be triggered but is when the post is edited and updated via WordPress itself.

I, therefore, need to be taken to the post editing page to turn this off before any accidents happen.

Building the flow

The first step is easy: use the Get Text from Input action to get the text from Drafts into the workflow. Thanks to tight integration between Drafts and Workflow your creation can be added directly to the Drafts actions list.

The text is then passed to the built in Post to WordPress action. After configuring it to connect to your blog you can pick the required options as listed above.

Once executed this action supplies the URL of the resultant post. As microblog posts are created without titles WordPress uses the post ID as the permalink. The post URL is saved to a variable so we can easily use it later. (In the latest version of Workflow, Magic Variables may serve this purpose but not, I found, in all cases.)

In order to navigate to the post edit page we have to construct the url based on the post ID. First, we need to isolate the post ID using Get Component of URL. This action pulls out specific sections of the URL such as:

  • scheme (e.g. http),
  • host (the root domain, e.g. colinwalker.blog), and
  • path (the part of the URL after the host and before any queries)

The path component includes the post ID and, depending on the permalink structure, might look something like /2017/02/20/5941/ - 5941 here being the post ID.

Isolating the post ID requires us to use Split Text to divide the path into chunks using the / as the break points.

This generates a list of those chunks and Get Item from List easily lets us choose the last one (the post ID) and pass it to a new variable.

From here the quickest option is to use a Text action to manually type the full edit post URL and tag on the PostID variable created above. This would then just be launched using Open URLs.

Making it generic

Rather than typing in the full URL, which limits the workflow to one site, we could dynamically create it with repeated use of Get Component of URL to pull out the host (domain) and even the URL scheme to ensure it matches.

These components are then written to their own variables and used to build the full URL instead of being manually typed.

Removing Drafts

Drafts is good for making notes of things I might want to post later but if I wanted to post immediately and didn't need any Markdown I could remove Drafts from the process and replace it with the Ask for Input action.

The workflow can then be saved to the Homescreen as an app shortcut or added to the Workflow Today widget.

Learning curve

I'll admit that Workflow initially seems a bit daunting and there is definitely a learning curve to climb. There may, as always, be better ways of achieving the above.

However, having a clear idea of what you want to achieve, how this can be broken into simple steps, and taking some time to read the action descriptions makes it far easier.

Posting with Workflow

Using Webmentions

Webmentions are a simple way to send and receive notifications that a URL has been mentioned elsewhere on the web.

They supersede pingbacks, having begun as a simpler version, and now have the support of a W3C recommendation for a web standard.

Why is this of interest? Well, Micro.blog will be using webmentions to notify you of replies or likes to your posts when self-hosted.

Fortunately, for WordPress users, there is a readymade plugin that provides support for both sending and receiving webmentions.

The plugin registers 'webmention' as a custom comment type making it extremely simple to display mentions using the normal WordPress methods.

Displaying mentions

When tweaking my theme I deliberately removed everything related to comments as I wanted it to be as minimal as possible. I also wanted replies to my posts to be left on Medium.

Now, while the blog was able to receive the webmentions (and these would appear as comments in the site backend) the removal of all comment functionality meant that these notifications could not be displayed on the site.

Cue Operation Rebuild!

The solution? Recreate a comment section but only to display webmentions for the microblog.

Without a comment form, and with such a limited scope, this was remarkably easy to achieve with very little code.

The following was added to single.php (the WordPress template for an individual post) to only show a comment section if viewing a microblog post with comments:

<?php
  if ( in_category('microblog') && get_comments_number() ) : 
    comments_template();
  endif;
?>

Because no other logic is required, all the comment template (comments.php) needs to display is webmentions:

<div id="comments" class="comments-area">
  <h5 class="comments-title">
     Reactions
  </h5>
  <ol class="comment-list">
    <?php wp_list_comments( 'type=webmention' ); ?>
  </ol>
</div>

One simple command surrounded by some HTML for display and formatting purposes.

It's not a perfect solution as a microblog post could potentially have another type of comment, a pingback for example, but the only issue would be that the "Reactions" header might be shown when there are no webmentions.

I could solve this with a separate function if it becomes a problem but I don't envisage getting other comments on the microblog posts.

Update

I decided to look for a solution to the potential issue above and found this function which can be used to check for a specific comment type on the current post - seems to work nicely.

Using Webmentions

Blogs are thrivingComments

If there's one thing that backing the Micro.blog Kickstarter has taught me it's that blogging is really holding its own.

The enthusiasm for self-hosted, independent blogging (beyond microblogging) is amazing and the range of available platforms, from CMS style set-ups to static site generators all of which I was unaware, is diverse.

Jekyll, Blot, Pelican, Kraken, Kirby, the list goes on. There are now so many ways to get your content online with just as many levels of complexity, most of which make my current setup seem ridiculously simple.

Still, it doesn't matter how you post just that you do!

What does matter is finding the best tools that fit the goals, knowledge and experience of the individual.

Some need as frictionless a solution as possible to encourage them to post more frequently while others enjoy a more complicated setup the complexities and challenges of which contribute to their blogging experience.

Although the passion for blogging is evident social networks have still taken most of the attention but self-hosting microblogs could have a dual function.

While the aim is to create a distributed social network, as self-hosting allows for both short and long form posts, those who start with just the former may be encouraged to mix it up and further reinvigorate the blogosphere.

Now there's a word that takes you back!

Blogs are thriving

The cross-posting dilemma

They say exposure is everything on the social web and best practice advocates cross-posting to multiple platforms to gain the most exposure we can. I can't help but have a dilemma with this.

Much of the reason I stopped posting on Twitter was the environment I found myself in every day and a key trigger was when my Nuzzel daily summary email had Trump in the title of every story.

Twitter has changed.

Not so much as a company or a platform, but what it contains. We are at a turning point where just about everyone is talking about the same things. Everyone is political now, whether it's about Brexit or Trump or beyond.

We follow specific accounts for specific purposes but now even those are talking about news and politics.

We used to talk about serendipity on social networks, those happy accidents when people and content would briefly align but serendipity is all but dead because everyone is talking about the same thing.

Breaking stories would always gather pace, trend and take over for a few news cycles, but now our feeds are one never ending story, inescapable and all consuming.

An unsatisfactory social experience is often blamed on bad account management and following the wrong people. By that definition, just about everyone has become "the wrong people."

Medium

Escaping to concentrate on the blog seemed the only solution. There I can cover the topics I want and cross-post to Medium for (hopefully) that all important exposure.

Medium, however, is suffering from the same ailment as Twitter, although to a slightly lesser degree.

It is good that people are passionate. It is good that they want to become involved and push for what they consider the best interests of society. But the vitriol being poured forth in the name of what's best is often as intolerant as the ideas being complained about.

The platform is suffering and people are leaving because of it.

Medium's strength is also its biggest frustration - the network effect empowers us, exposes us to more people but having to rely on others in order to be seen is hard.

We see a bump in reads but realise that it is only for our responses and not for our original content - making us just an observed contributor, viewed because we have become attached to someone else's work.

The dilemma

A feature of Micro.blog will be cross-posting back to Twitter so your followers there can keep up to date with what you're doing. Having sworn off Twitter, however, I am dubious I want to start pushing updates and getting dragged back into that environment.

Just like Medium, the value is in the network and its engagement; just pushing updates and not interacting has no benefit, it's like whispering into the Grand Canyon and people don't follow links any more. But that required engagement risks becoming mired in a quicksand of negativity.

Considering this, and the double-edged network effect, also makes me wonder why I persist in cross-posting to Medium. Am I being hypocritical?

Hope

Rather than just hitting publish and letting the WordPress plugin do its thing, that I am still investing time and effort on Medium reflects that it has not yet plumbed the same depths as Twitter.

With the uncertainty over Medium's latest pivot and any new business model it is natural to wonder if this is still the place to entrust our creativity to. There is hope they have caught it in time.

With Micro.blog being a completely new network fuelled by that pioneer spirit there is hope that it can flourish whilst avoiding the pitfalls experienced elsewhere.

Maybe there is even hope that Twitter will settle or that we'll get new ways to see what we want to see and avoid what we don't.

Maybe then I'll start cross-posting.

The cross-posting dilemma

Preparing for the microblogComments

In this post I will outline why I wanted to self-host a microblog, what I felt was required to do it properly, how I accomplished the various steps and, where appropriate, explain why I made some of the decisions I did.

I'll preface the following by saying that I am not a developer by any stretch of the imagination but I know a bit of PHP and WordPress structure - not to mention how to search!

There are probably more elegant solutions to the problems I have tackled but what I have seems to work okay and I am happy with that.

Background

When I rebooted the blog back in March 2016 I wanted to keep the old posts separate and have a fresh start. All previous content needed to be available but I didn't want it immediately visible.

To achieve this all posts prior to March 2016 were added to an Archive category then removed from the main display with the Ultimate Category Excluder plugin.

As a category the archive is easily accessible but, to keep things clean, I used the Remove Category URL plugin to reduce the path from /category/archive to just /archive.

Because I wanted a very minimal appearance the blog does not have a menu so navigation was added to the footer. The above seemed a good place to begin.

Part of the reason for rebooting the blog was to get all my writing back under my own control. I may cross-post to Medium - where I encourage responses having disabled comments locally - but everything is posted to WordPress first.

While I still believe in Twitter as a force and as a product the overriding atmosphere pushed me away. Coming across the Micro.blog Kickstarter reminded me that I still wanted to post but it was just the environment that discouraged me from doing so.

Having a system for short (micro) posts that allowed for networking whilst retaining that same element of independence and control was an attractive prospect.

The goal

In preparing for the launch of Micro.blog the aim was to create an entirely separate presentation and feed that didn't interfere with, and wasn't visible within, the main blog and RSS feed.

In keeping with the existing minimal look and feel the microblog had to be presented with the minimum of fuss without having to create any new page templates.

The what

  • create the microblog
  • remove it from the main view and feed
  • create a separate, cleaner RSS feed with custom template
  • tweak the theme to better present short posts
  • set the number of posts per page for the microblog separately from the main blog
  • ensure the correct RSS feeds were presented

The how

Create the microblog
At the most basic level, creating the microblog is easy: just create a new post category. WordPress automatically generates an RSS feed at http://site_URL/category/category_name/feed so that's it, we're finished, right?

Technically, yes. You could leave it at that but the microblog would be included in the normal blog view and RSS feed while its own feed contained unnecessary elements.

A bit of surgery is in order.

Separate the microblog
As I wanted the microblog to be entirely self contained it needed to be removed from the main posts page and RSS feed. My initial thought was to use the category excluder as with the Archive but, having not yet decided how I was going to handle the feed, wanted another way.

The microblog had to be accessible only via its own page and RSS feed. Adding the following to functions.php did the trick to remove it from unwanted locations:

function exclude_category( &$wp_query ) {
   if( is_home() || ( is_feed() && !is_category() ) || ( is_archive() && !is_category() ))
   {
      set_query_var('category__not_in', array(156)); // Exclude category with ID 156
   }
}

add_action('pre_get_posts','exclude_category' );

You could remove the microblog category from the main feed by using a URL modifier: http://site_URL/feed?cat=-156 but I prefer keeping the user-facing side tidy.

Custom RSS feed
With the microblog set up the next stage was to create a new streamlined RSS template to better suit status update style posts. I have been taking a degree of steer from Manton Reece on this who reminds us, for example, that the item title is an optional element.

The default WordPress rss2 template (feed-rss2.php) was copied from the wp-includes folder to the root of my theme ready for editing and called rss-microblog.php.

Various elements were removed or replaced to reduce the clutter added by WordPress, for example:
- do_action( 'rss2_head' ); was replaced with manual entries to better describe the feed
- the rss_enclosure section at the end of each item was removed which includes do_action( 'rss2_item' );
- the <title></title> tags within the item were stripped out as they are redundant

With the custom template in place, the following was added to functions.php to create a new feed and associate it with the new template:

add_feed('microblog', 'microblogRSSFunc');

function microblogRSSFunc() {
   query_posts('cat=microblog');
   include_once(get_template_directory() . '/rss-microblog.php');
   wp_reset_query();
}

When a custom feed is created in this way its address is http://site_URL/feed/feed_name - the feed name is the first argument passed in the add_feed command.

As I use the JetPack sharing buttons (AKA sharedaddy) for the blog these are included as part of the item content by default so needed to be removed from the microblog feed. Adding the following line to microblogRSSFunc() takes care of this leaving a pretty clean feed.

remove_filter( 'the_content', 'sharing_display', 19 );

I found that, despite the main WordPress settings saying feeds should show 20 items, the custom feed was only giving 5. This was rectified by adding a custom query to the template:

$postCount = 20;
$posts = query_posts('showposts=' . $postCount.'&category_name=microblog');

One final touch was to completely remove the WordPress Generator tags from both the site and the feed. This was purely a vanity move and achieved by adding the below to functions.php:

function remove_wp_version_rss() {
   return'';
}
add_filter('the_generator','remove_wp_version_rss');

Editing the theme
I won't go into this much as it's very specific to my setup but, as the microblog is just a category, a degree of tweaking was needed to present it in a different way to a normal category page.

Fortunately, WordPress has me covered and gives the category-category_name class to work with. By applying category specific styling such as .category-microblog p the look can be altered for only microblog posts without requiring a different page template.

The blog is configured to only show 5 posts per page via Settings > Reading which is fine for longer posts but not really suitable for the microblog. As it is a site-wide setting I have overridden it for the microblog to use 20 posts per page as below but am considering infinite scroll for this category.

function category_filter_pre_get_posts( $query ) {
   if ( $query->is_main_query() && is_category( 156 ) ) {
      $query->set( 'posts_per_page', '20' );
   }
}

add_action( 'pre_get_posts', 'category_filter_pre_get_posts' );

Tidying up

With the heavy lifting done all that remained was to ensure the correct RSS feeds were being exposed.

Because both /microblog/feed and /feed/microblog exist I redirected the former to the latter in .htaccess.

The default RSS feeds added to the header by WordPress were removed using the below in functions.php and manually replaced with the desired \<link> tags:

remove_action('wp_head','feed_links',2);
remove_action('wp_head','feed_links_extra',3);

And that's it.

There is no doubt a better and cleaner way to do half of the above but it's been good to explore and document the process.

Preparing for the microblog

Pioneer spiritComments

I used to be an early adopter, I was among the first to put my name down for anything.

I joined Twitter early before hardly anyone even knew what it was, or what it could be. I signed up for every clone that came after and virtually every other service that appeared.

I have long abandoned social accounts strewn all across the web because I just had to be there and try "the new thing." Some accounts I've closed but most I've forgotten so, if the service survives, they exist as little forgotten pieces of a fragmented social identity.

Bragging rights

I was a beta tester for anything I could get my hands on, a total geek veering into nerd territory.

I used to think that being at the forefront was an adventure, an opportunity to see and shape the future but, much of the time, it was for the wrong reasons. I wanted to be first to be cool, for bragging rights.

The realisation that I didn't need to be this person, combined with a period of consolidation and stagnation on the social web, meant that I stopped diving headlong into things.

A few products seemed exciting but weren't really sticky for me and the dominance of the major players, gathering data into their silos, meant any new players didn't really stand a chance.

App.net was an attempt at breaking the control of the big social companies but, while it was a very solid product and had massive potential, seemed to come from the wrong place. It was born out of bitterness and resentment of how Twitter had treated the developer community.

It was incredibly capable but became synonymous with its proof of concept app Alpha - an ad free Twitter clone. Most couldn't see beyond this and its closure was, sadly, inevitable.

Is it time?

Now, micro.blog has got me excited again. It takes us back to the roots of the open web, to good old fashioned RSS and hosting our own content.

The pioneer spirit of the old web feels like it's making a comeback.

There may be a frustration at the status quo and the dominance (and long term uncertainty) of the major platforms, but micro.blog strikes me as a genuine attempt to build something that improves and simplifies short form web publishing whilst leaving control in the hands of authors.

Why should it survive when so many others have failed?

Although micro.blog will act like Twitter - there will be an app with a timeline where you follow others, reply and favourite posts - it is not just a social network but an extension of our existing blogs.

Control and ownership are paramount.

Against a backdrop of online abuse and fake news there is a real sea change, a rising swell of distrust. Algorithms are everywhere with their inherent biases and, although they promise to show you more of what you like, it is becoming harder than ever to see what you want.

Compromise

We have traded privacy for convenience but are always going to be on the losing side of that deal while networks rely on advertising and lock-in to survive. Everything on the social web is about compromise.

Medium's recent move may be a step in the right direction but, with a general reluctance to pay for content, there is no guarantee of a new business model succeeding.

App.net may have come too soon, maybe the web wasn't ready, or the environment that spawned it may have been too toxic for it to flourish.

But attitudes are changing. Perhaps the time is right for a new approach and something like micro.blog can succeed.

Things feel different now.

Pioneer spirit

Is federated microblogging about to become a reality?

Way back in 2008 Dave Winer wrote "Microblogging should be decentralized" arguing that reliance on a single, for profit platform such as Twitter was a bad idea.

Admittedly, this was against the backdrop of the fail whale but the idea of a federated service seemed sound - the catch would be that Twitter would have to enable it and build the required tools (or allow developers to build them and we all know how that went!)

In 2011 I wrote a post arguing that calls for a federated network were probably unrealistic but I just stumbled across a Kickstarter project that may have changed my mind.

Micro.blog

Manton Reece, a developer and podcaster, is writing a book called "Indie Microblogging" but also developing a new service called, unsurprisingly, micro.blog using RSS to deliver updates.

Micro.blog will be a combination of a paid platform to host microblogs (no advertising here) and a social network allowing you to follow updates from others, reply etc. It will also be open allowing you to connect your own blog rather than relying on the centralised hosting.

Twitter clones and alternatives have come and gone but this is something I would really like to see succeed so I've backed it on Kickstarter.

Why not check it out.

Is federated microblogging about to become a reality?